Why You Should Use Turmeric and Black Pepper Together

black pepper & turmeric
Photo Illustration by Lecia Bury for Verywell Health; Getty Images.

Key Takeaways

  • Curcumin, the primary bioactive substance that gives turmeric its anti-inflammatory properties, may not be well absorbed by the body.
  • Consuming turmeric with black pepper can help increase curcumin absorption.
  • But some research suggests that spices can work by changing the gut microbiome more so than through absorption.

Turmeric is a golden spice with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. But how do you make turmeric even more powerful? By adding black pepper.

Research suggests that curcumin, a natural substance in turmeric, may not be absorbed well by the body. But piperine, a compound found in black pepper, can help increase curcumin absorption.

Curcumin on its own is quick to leave the body, which means you might be missing out on some of turmeric’s health benefits, according to Courtney Schuchmann, MS, RD, LDN, a registered dietitian at the University of Chicago Medicine.

Schuchmann told Verywell that piperine works by “blocking the metabolic pathway of curcumin,” which helps the body take up and use the curcumin. Piperine works the same way with other nutrients and may also increase the absorption of iron, beta-carotene, and selenium.

The next time you cook with turmeric, think about grabbing the pepper grinder.

“Try combining turmeric and black pepper for sauces, curries, marinades, salad dressings, and even in smoothies to fully capitalize on the potential health benefits attributed with curcumin,” Schuchmann said.

Should You Always Eat Turmeric and Black Pepper Together?

While it may be a good idea to cook with turmeric and black pepper together, don’t stress if you run out of pepper or don’t prefer adding it.

Turmeric may still offer anti-inflammatory and other health benefits without black pepper, said Monique Richard, MS, RDN, LDN, a registered dietitian and spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics based in Johnson City, TN.

“It’s a little bit easier for our body to use those active compounds in turmeric by pairing it with piperine, but it’s still going to be beneficial no matter how we consume it,” Richard told Verywell.

Black pepper isn’t the only ingredient that can help the body absorb turmeric. Curcumin is fat-soluble, which means nuts, seeds, extra virgin olive oil, and avocados can all help your body absorb and use curcumin, Richard explained.

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine and Asian cuisines for many centuries, and the spice is often in recipes that have fish, cashews, and other healthy fat sources.

“We have to remember that we don’t consume something by itself. All of these things work synergistically together,” she said.

Turmeric Might Also Affect the Gut Microbiome

There’s some evidence to suggest that absorption is not the only way the body can access curcumin.

Zhaoping Li, MD, PhD, a professor of medicine and chief of the division of clinical nutrition at the University of California, Los Angeles, said that we might be getting more of the health benefits from turmeric through the spice’s impact on the gut microbiome than from what’s absorbed in the blood.

Li co-authored a 2019 study that found that culinary doses of spices changed the composition of the gut microbiome. The researchers used a mixture of cinnamon, oregano, ginger, black pepper, and cayenne pepper for the study. Although they didn’t use turmeric specifically, the findings showed that the benefits we get from spices could be related to prebiotic effects, which feed healthy bacteria in the gut.

More research is needed, specifically on turmeric, but Li said that the bottom line is turmeric and black pepper can offer health benefits whether they are consumed together or not.

“Eat black pepper, eat [turmeric] as much as you want,” Li said. “If you don’t, you may not need to worry because each one of them independently can help you even though they’re not really absorbed.”

What This Means For You

Adding black pepper can enhance curcumin absorption, so your body can take better advantage of curcumin's anti-inflammatory properties.

6 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
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